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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Which Bible versions are in church English?

New blog visitor, Tim, has been raising good questions about church English in comments on a recent post. I thought it would be helpful to answer Tim's latest question in a blog post, so here goes.

Tim asked:

Could you identify for us the different 'dialects' of English associated in your mind with the different Bible translations available?

From the standpoint of English 'dialects' I see two basic categories of English Bible versions:
  1. Versions which are translated into one of the standard dialects of English, that is, ordinary, good quality English spoken by people in Australia, Canada, the U.K., the U.S., etc. It is English which is recognized as good quality by a wide range of people, including those who are not so well educated as well as those who have a number of years of formal education beyond high school. The English of any Bible translated into one of these dialects can be understood by all speakers of one of these dialects. There are no jargon or speciality dialect words or syntax in such a "standard dialect" translation, by definition.
  2. Versions which are translated into a speciality dialect, such as street English, Cotton Patch English, rap English, church English, Biblish, etc. These translations can be understood only by a subset of speakers of standard dialects of English. Not all speakers of standard Midwest American English, for instance, can understand an English Bible written in church English. But all speakers of Midwest American English can understand a Bible written in Midwest American English.
English Bible versions can be fairly easily categorized as to whether or not they are translated into a standard dialect of English.

The TEV (Good News Bible) was intentionally translated into standard American English (with an adaptation for British English).

The CEV, NCV, and GW (God's Word) are in standard English.

The NLT has a fairly high degree of standard English, but it also has more church English in it than the Living Bible from which it is a revision.

J.B. Phillips translation is written in a standard British dialect.

The Better Life Bible (see it under the Versions section in the right margin of this blog) is written in standard English. The BLB is the smoothest reading and most natural Bible translation I have ever read. I disagree with a few of the exegetical decisions of its translator, who is my longtime friend, Dan Sindlinger, a contributor to this blog. Others, however, will agree with Dan's exegetical decisions. Dan is clearly gifted at being able to express the meaning of the biblical text, as he understands it, in very smooth, ordinary, natural English. Dan's target audience for the BLB are people who are not familiar with the Bible and don't have much time to try to read and understand English Bibles which are not written in standard English.

From my study of Bible versions, and as an English editor and linguist, I conclude that all other English versions are written, to varying degrees, in non-standard English. There are different degrees to which each translation conforms to the syntax and lexicon of standard dialects of English. Hence, the NIV (and TNIV) has much more standard English in it than, say, the NASB.

Bibles written in church English, or Biblish, as it is sometimes called, by definition are not written in a standard dialect of English. Church English is a speciality dialect. It is understood by a subset of speakers of standard dialects of English, not by all speakers of a standard dialect of English. Church English imports a large amount of syntax and non-standard lexical patterns from the biblical languages. Such syntax and lexicon are not part of the syntax or lexicon of English. They are, however, part of the syntax and lexicon of those who understand and, often, speak church English.

Please note that whether or not a Bible version is written only in a standard dialect of English is not the same as whether or not that version is literal, essentially literal, or a more idiomatic (dynamic equivalent) translation. Degree of use of standard English is a different translation parameter from degree of literalness, although there is a close correlation between these two parameters. [UDATE: And degree of translation naturalness is different from translation accuracy. A translation can be natural but inaccurate. A translation can be unnatural but accurate. A translation can be both unnatural and inaccurate. The ideal translation is one which is accurate, natural, and clear.]

Please note that I am not making any value judgement about any English version when I categorize it as being written in a standard dialect of English or not. I personally prefer to read English versions which are written in standard dialects of English. Such Bibles are in my heart language and therefore I understand them better and they impact me more effectively than do Bibles not written close to the standard English dialect which I speak (West Coast American English).

There are many church people who prefer to use Bibles which are written in church English. Such Bibles sound more holy to them than Bibles written in Koine or standard English. Such Bibles seem to them more accurate than Bibles written in standard dialects. It is not for me to judge anyone as to which version of the Bible they use. I can point out the implications for use of standard or non-standard English language Bibles, and then people can decide for themselves how they will relate to these implications. Any Bible written in a non-standard dialect of English will not be very effective in evangelism, since the syntax and lexicon of that version will sound strange to those we are attempting to evangelize.

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44 Comments:

At Thu Dec 22, 02:19:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Hi Wayne,

New poster here...

I don't claim to be an authority on "everyday speech" or anything, but to be honest, I think I may have a closer proximity to it than many other Bible readers. At least as far as 30 and unders go.

To my discredit, I've probably stepped into a church no more than a couple dozen times (And yet, I came to Christ about 10 years ago). And again, to my discredit, most of my Christian life is a private affair. I'm very much "in the world" so to speak (but not of it). In some odd ways though, this shortcoming of mine may have a small advantage (Or perhaps not? I don't really know).

That being said, when I first started reading the scriptures, it was through the RSV and NRSV. These translations played a big part in how I first communicated Christ and Christianity to others.

It wasn't long until I realized how alien the language I was using at the time sounded to the people around me though. I could barely get a simple message across, let alone get people to read the scriptures themselves (Mind you, I'm not even talking about evangelism here. Just typical discussion with friends, family, and the like).

After that realization, it wasn't long until I realized how few options there are for the average reader "period". It wasn't just the KJV/RSV/NRSV's problem. These issues extend to most translations. Most of them have that certain liturgial flare about them. I would go so far as to say that even the way Bibles are formatted make people shy away from them (verse numbers and double columns, for example).

There's something about the way most Bibles are translated and published that just tells me that their only purpose is to suit the needs of the few that already read it. It's as if they expect outsiders to make the effort (instead of the other way around).

The non-standard English, the formatting, the insistence on theological words like "regeneration", "propitiation", etc., etc.. Even the word "Gospel" itself -- I hate to break it some of the readers here, but all of these things add up to a bunch of jargon. Nothing more than that.

Who's the "Gospel" for anyways? For those who feel the need to speak in exalted tones, to be theological, and "on the inside"? Or is for those who desperately and simply need the "Good News"?

I don't mean to sound negative though. There are translations out there that working towards these goals, of course. Some of them may be a little juvenile or patronizing, I think, but they do make an effort to communicate in everyday English.

None of them are particularly accurate though -- Which is what we need. Something that remains closer to a literal translation than not, but can also communicate effectively outside liturgical and church environments....

As for myself, I can't say that I've broken many barriers either. Sometimes I insist on quoting more literal renderings, but then add an explanation or paraphrase. I'm also an actor by trade, so I try to dramatize things a bit too.

In my private reading, I tend to use the NAB, NSRV, or NJB. If anyone asks me about reading the Bible themselves though, I show them the NLT and see how it goes from there (Though I do wish that translation wasn't so Evangelical oriented. It could use the Deutero-Canon....But this all beside the point probably).

 
At Thu Dec 22, 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Straylight, your points are well stated and I think they are true. Many regular Bible readers, as you say, will not be able to identify with them, however, because we have become so familiar with what we think a Bible should look like, sound like, be formatted as, etc. There needs to be some important thinking done if we hope to get people who are not familiar with the Bible to read it and benefit from it. There is a Bible culture, and like all cultures it is difficult for insiders to the culture to view their culture objectively and see any need to change for the sake of those who are not part of the culture.

 
At Thu Dec 22, 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Wayne, it's your new resident troublemaker again. Sorry.

To tell the truth, I think your post raises more questions than it answers. Here are some that come to mind:

The versions you cite as being in 'standard English' are all versions which take significant liberties with the text. I used the Good News Bible for years whilst working amongst native people for whom English was a second language; it did a very good job for them, but I became aware of the number of interpretive decisions it was making all the time in cases where the text itself is ambiguous. Likewise, the CEV, which translates 'grace' as 'kindness' - surely a reduction of the full meaning of 'grace'. I agree, 'grace' is a technical term, but people who think 'kindness' is what the original says are, frankly, being deceived.

So, what you seem to be saying is, 'We have to choose between faithfulness to the original on the one hand, or 'standard English' useage on the other'. That's our choice. You seem to be recommending (despite your disclaimer) that we sacrifice faithfulness to the original. As for me, I'm still stuck in the horns of the dilemma. On the one hand, I know you haven't really translated unless you've made the meaning clear. On the other hand, if the meaning you communicate is significantly different from the meaning in the original (and I would contend that, in the 'standard Englisn versions you list, it often is), then you haven't really translated either.

Secondly: is it really true that the reason a lot of church people prefer to use Bibles written in what you call 'church English' is because they sound more 'holy' to them? How do you know what their motives are? Frankly, I can tell you that in my case, a 'holy'sound has nothing to do with it. Rather, I choose to use the NRSV, the TNIV, and (occasionally) the ESV because I want to have some confidence that what I'm reading is what the original actually says, and not an interpretation made by someone, supposedly for my benefit.

Thirdly, is it really true that Bibles written in non-standard English will not be very effective in evangelism? Some of the most effective evangelists in the world today use the NIV; I know of hardly any who use the TEV or the CEV.

But this begs two more questions:

Is the Bible, used by itself, meant to be used in evangelism? Of course, this was next-to-impossible in the early church; very few people used written Bibles in evangelism (the only case that comes to mind is Philip and the Ethiopian eunach), because written texts were far too expensive. People preached the good news, quoting texts from memory and explaining them where necessary. But is the use of the written Scriptures, without the human voice to explain and apply them, a biblical evangelistic strategy? I'd challenge anyone to defend it from the New Testament.

And why are we so afraid of leaving language in the Bible that people have to learn to understand? Take the word 'grace', for example, which I mentioned earlier. Yes, it's a technical term, but most people in my congregation (including people who have only been Christians for a short time) would be able to explain it to you, because I explain it to them regularly. And why is it unreasonable that we should rely on the church to do this for us? After all, membership in the church is a biblical principle! For sixteen hundred years you pretty well had to be a part of the church to hear the Bible; only since printing was invented have we had this strange notion that individual Christians ought to be able to sit alone in their houses and understand everything in the Bible without the help of the Christian community.

Well, this is already far too long, and I'm already taking up far too much of your time, Wayne. We may just have to accept that we have an unreconcilable difference here (as J.Lo would say!) and leave it at that. Take care and God bless.

Tim

 
At Thu Dec 22, 03:56:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Speaking of English, I apologize for the errors in the above post. I typed it up far too quickly, I think.

I'm glad you could make sense out of it though, Wayne. There are several gaps/missing words in it. :)

As for the phrase that you used: "Bible culture"....I think that's right on. It would seem that the task of translating the scriptures these days is twofold:

First, translating the Hebrew and Greek. Second, translating through filter of Bible culture, institutions, and seminaries.

There shouldn't be a second filter though...

Culture and institution are beautiful things, don't get me wrong, but it may be time that people drop their guard a bit. Such things, while good, no longer remain good if they become obstacles for the message of God.

[1 Cor. 9-22,23]

"To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you." [KJV]

"When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ. I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings." [NLT]

"I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers." [GW]

"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." [TNIV]

Peterson puts in a mouthful, so I'm gonna quote verse 19 here as well. I tend to like him, but in this case, I think he communicates the point even LESS than the KJV!

"I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized -- whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ -- but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! [Message]

Either way, this is what we need to do...

 
At Thu Dec 22, 05:06:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Tim commented:

Wayne, it's your new resident troublemaker again. Sorry.

Really, Tim, there is nothing to apologize for. The worst questions are the ones left unasked. You are asking excellent questions that deserve answers. There are times during my work day when I need a break and writing about Bible translation is a good way to use my breaks.

To tell the truth, I think your post raises more questions than it answers. Here are some that come to mind:

The versions you cite as being in 'standard English' are all versions which take significant liberties with the text.


This is possible, Tim. But the parameter at issue was whether or not a Bible version was in a standard dialect of English or not. I addressed that question. The matter of accuracy is another issue, the most important issue in translation, IMO. It is a different issue from language naturalness.

I used the Good News Bible for years whilst working amongst native people for whom English was a second language; it did a very good job for them, but I became aware of the number of interpretive decisions it was making all the time in cases where the text itself is ambiguous.

I would like to know the examples you found. And if you could also post them in the TEV section of this blog, that would be a help.

Likewise, the CEV, which translates 'grace' as 'kindness' - surely a reduction of the full meaning of 'grace'.

You are right, but there is almost never a one-to-one matching of terms between languages. What word currently in use by speakers of standard dialects of English would more accurately translate the Greek word xaris?

I agree, 'grace' is a technical term, but people who think 'kindness' is what the original says are, frankly, being deceived.

How are they being deceived. My understanding of Greek xaris is such that the English word "kindness" comes close to translating its meaning. Might you, perhaps, be thinking of a full encyclopedic meaning of the Greek work from its theological meaning in the context of the NT? If so, then we will not find any word in any other language which can adequately translate any Greek words. The very words used in the biblical texts were themselves inadequate, in some ways, to capture the full meanings they eventually had, through progressive teaching and understanding.

So, what you seem to be saying is, 'We have to choose between faithfulness to the original on the one hand, or 'standard English' useage on the other'.

No, I never addressed the issue of accuracy in my previous comments to you. It's a separate issue, an extremely important issue. We have blogged on it in the past and will do so again. Search on the keyword "accuracy" in the search window at the upper left of our blog main page and search only within this blog. Also look for comments about accuracy issues made by me and others under individual versions on this blog.

That's our choice. You seem to be recommending (despite your disclaimer) that we sacrifice faithfulness to the original.

No, I never addressed the matter of accuracy. I would never want someone to have to decide between having a natural or an inaccurate translation. You asked me about dialect issues, so I stayed on that topic. My desire is for a Bible translation which is both accurate and natural (and also clear, and acceptable to churches, and in the proper register for the intended audience, and at the right reading level for that audiences, etc. etc.).

As for me, I'm still stuck in the horns of the dilemma. On the one hand, I know you haven't really translated unless you've made the meaning clear. On the other hand, if the meaning you communicate is significantly different from the meaning in the original (and I would contend that, in the 'standard Englisn versions you list, it often is), then you haven't really translated either.

You are absolutely correct. And it is not just accuracy and naturalness that need to be accounted for in order for a translation to be adequate. There are other important translation parameters as well, including faithfulness to the varying genres of the biblical canon, acceptability of the translation wordings to ecclesiastical bodies using it, language register, reading level, etc. Translation is a very difficult job. But it can be done, and it can be done in a way that the product is accurate as well as natural.

Secondly: is it really true that the reason a lot of church people prefer to use Bibles written in what you call 'church English' is because they sound more 'holy' to them?

Yes.

How do you know what their motives are?

People have often stated their reasons for preferring one style of translation over another. The matter of how sacred a Bible sounds is one of the most important issues to many Bible users. It has been for me. When I first encountered the Living Bible I rejected it, thinking that it didn't souund like a Bible. I thought a Bible should sound more complicated, more holy, I guess.

The translators of the NIV intentionally translated so its language would sound "dignified" (their term). That's another way of referring to a Bible as sound holy or sacred, that is, acceptable for church use.

Frankly, I can tell you that in my case, a 'holy'sound has nothing to do with it.

I'm glad for you, because many of the original biblical text passages did not sound holy when they were first written. They just sounded like regular language. The message was holy but the message was conveyed in ordinary, standard language. And the same can be done today with Bible translations.

Rather, I choose to use the NRSV, the TNIV, and (occasionally) the ESV because I want to have some confidence that what I'm reading is what the original actually says, and not an interpretation made by someone, supposedly for my benefit.

Actually, there are many interpretations in each of these versions also. And using non-standard English creates a kind of interpretation (or lack of meaning, which is a kind of interpretation), by default, since non-standard forms create a barrier for speakers of standard English to understand the original meaning accurately. If people do not get the meaning accurately from a translation, it is not their fault. It is the fault of a translation for not using linguistic forms which they understand and which accurately communicate the original meaning.

Thirdly, is it really true that Bibles written in non-standard English will not be very effective in evangelism?

Yes. Evangelism is more effective when it is in the language of the heart. Jesus set the example for us. He did not speak in any speciality dialect as he evangelized. He spoke to people using the language forms they were already familiar with. Now, this is not to say that God cannot use less than ideal tools for evangelism. Just think, he wants you and me to evangelize, and we are far from perfect. Well, I don't know you well enough to really say that about you, but I know I can say it about myself!!

Some of the most effective evangelists in the world today use the NIV; I know of hardly any who use the TEV or the CEV.

You're right. And the NIV is a good translation. I did not say it was not a good translation. In my previous comments and post I only addressed your questions about church dialects and standard dialects. And your questions were very important ones. Now you have moved on to other topics, each of which are also important. But we need to keep apples separate from oranges as we analyze each different Bible translation parameter. Previously, all I said was that the NIV (and TNIV) do not have as natural, standard English as those translations which do, such as the TEV, CEV, NCV, and GW.

My statements said nothing about what is the best translation for any particular use. Every translation comes down to a totality of parameters, all of which need to be considered to determine what version is a good one for a particular task and a particular audience.

But this begs two more questions:

Is the Bible, used by itself, meant to be used in evangelism?


I personally doubt it, but many of us still marvel at the wonderful stories about people who have been evangelized just from reading some part of the Bible, sometimes even from a Bible version which is rather obsolete in its language. God can use all kinds of less than ideal tools to do his work. He even spoke through a donkey that belonged to the prophet Balaam! :-)

Of course, this was next-to-impossible in the early church; very few people used written Bibles in evangelism (the only case that comes to mind is Philip and the Ethiopian eunach), because written texts were far too expensive. People preached the good news, quoting texts from memory and explaining them where necessary. But is the use of the written Scriptures, without the human voice to explain and apply them, a biblical evangelistic strategy?

I've thought about this question a lot over the years, esp. since I've spent so many years helping translate the Bible for a group that needed a Bible in their language. This group, although missionized for 100 years still needs to be evangelized. Or as some of my Catholic or Lutheran friends have said, "The chatechized need to be evaneglized."

I'd challenge anyone to defend it from the New Testament.

Me too. And yet Bible publishers produce editions of their Bibles specifically to be used in evangelism. I, too, wonder about that. I think that a lot more thinking needs to go into the matter of what is the role of the Bible in evangelism. I personally like the way that Billy Graham has preached. He includes relevent parts of the Bible with his famous phrase "The Bible says ..." He doesn't simply quote from the Bible throughout his entire sermons.

And why are we so afraid of leaving language in the Bible that people have to learn to understand?

I don't know if fear is involved, but I do think that this is another matter for serious discussion. As I understand it, the original biblical texts did not have words in them which their audiences had to learn. I don't think Jesus preached using any words which people had to learn. I take both examples as something for us to follow in Bible translation. The Bible was written in standard Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek dialects. One did not need to be a Jew or a Christian to understand the words and syntax of the original biblical texts. I am referring to linguistic understand now, not spiritual understanding which sometimes cannot occur without further teaching and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Take the word 'grace', for example, which I mentioned earlier. Yes, it's a technical term, but most people in my congregation (including people who have only been Christians for a short time) would be able to explain it to you, because I explain it to them regularly.

Good for you. Now they have learned the biblical meaning for that word. But you could have saved yourself time and energy if you had used an English version which translated the biblical concept into standard English. It is not a preacher's or Bible teacher's job to explain the meaning of non-standard words in Bible versions. I recognize that many preachers think that that is part of their job. (Perhaps you have heard the anecdote about some preachers who use the KJV. When asked why they do so, some answer, "If I don't use that old version, what would be left for me to preach about?")

....

Good questions, Tim, very good questions. We need to have them discussed as openly as possible. That's why we have this blog. We blog contributors don't have all the answers to all the questions about Bible translations, but we are willing to be part of the process for finding helpful answers.

 
At Thu Dec 22, 05:22:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Straylight, thank you for your interesting comments! It is really good to have a perspective from someone like you, someone who remains "in the world, but not of the world" (to use a church English type phrase).

Both you and Tim raised the interesting question of whether it is possible for a translation to be both "accurate" and in standard English. The problem here is how to define "accurate". If for you accuracy refers mainly to the literal grammatical forms of the language, then the answer is no, because a translation according to literal grammatical forms is bound to stick with the forms of ancient Hebrew and Greek rather than use those of standard English.

However, many of us prefer to use a definition of "accurate" which depends not on form but on communicating the message: by this definition, a translation is accurate if it communicates the same message to its target audience that the original author communicated, or intended to communicate, to the original audience. Of course this begs a number of questions about how to determine the original author's intention, but then on any definition the accuracy of a translation can only be judged if the meaning of the original is assumed to be known. But there are a number of translations, such as GNB, CEV, NLT and The Message which you have mentioned, which make good attempts at communicating the original message, as understood (sometimes controversially) by the translators, to modern audiences who do not understand church language.

Of course all of this does depend on how the translators understand the original text. But this is true of all translations. For there is a very serious fallacy in Tim's suggestion that translations into standard English make more interpretive decisions than those into church English. Every single word in every translation involves an interpretive decision to use that word rather than one of a smaller or larger number of synonyms and/or alternative constructions. Church English translations tend to make similar choices to one another, often those originally made by Tyndale and copied by KJV and others since then - constrained in part because they are "translating through filter of Bible culture, institutions, and seminaries". And these interpretive choices are often valid, but not always if the result is intended to be in modern standard English. Translators of standard English translations have tended to make rather different interpretive choices. Some of these choices are indeed questionable. But they are still making no choices which are different in principle from those which all translators have to make.

So, Straylight, I would recommend you to use translations like NLT, GW, GNB (which incidentally includes the Deuterocanonical books if you want them) and CEV. Don't worry that these are not literal translations. You can trust these to be accurate in the sense of communicating something close to the message intended by the original.

 
At Thu Dec 22, 06:16:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi all,

I'll have to be a little brief in comparison but I think that 1 Timothy 2:15 is an excellent example of how a very literal traditional translation like the KJV still makes an interpretive decision. Only Darby's translation is literal and personally I prefer it.

But she shall be preserved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with discretion.

These kinds of decisions have been made all through the traditional Bible versions. So when you read Greek with a secular and classical background the number of interpretive decisions made by Tyndale and others really jump out at you. But if one studies Biblical Greek as a first or only exposure to Greek one might assume a lot of translations as is. You don't say, "What is the most likely interpretation for a Greek reader 2000 years ago?" Everyone knows that the secular meaning of saved was keep safe or secure but the Bible has a specialty meaning in addition to its plain text reading. There's the decision.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 09:24:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I'm sorry to say that you have fallen into the same fallacy as Tim by claiming that Darby's translation of 1 Timothy 2:15 is somehow less interpretive than KJV or Tyndale. Darby chose to render the Greek verb σωθήσεται as "she shall be preserved". KJV chose to render this verb as "she shall be saved". These are both interpretive choices. It may be true that Darby's interpretive decision is correct and KJV's is incorrect in this case, or it may not be true, but that is not the point. One is no less interpretive or more literal than the other.

In fact arguably KJV is more literal here than Darby, because it is more consistent with its renderings of other occurrences of the same Greek verb e.g. in Romans 10:13 where the verb form is identical and where both KJV and Darby render "shall be saved".

The problem which you, Suzanne, have with the KJV reading is that it is highly literal and consistent, and you prefer Darby's rendering because here it is less literal, or to put it another way, Darby has made an intelligent interpretive choice based on the context, rather than a poor interpretive choice based on blind consistency. But then I would not want to accuse KJV of blind consistency here, because the subtle distinction between "saved" and "preserved" in modern English may not have been quite the same in the early 17th century.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Thanks, Suzanne; that's extremely helpful.

Wayne has given my post a long and thoughtful reply - thanks, Wayne. Much to chew on in what you say. At this busy Christmas season I don't have time to give it anything like the reply it deserves. However, you did invite me to point out some interperetive decisions made by the TEV. Here are a couple.

Isaiah 53:6b:
NRSV: 'and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all'.

TEV: 'But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved'.

It seems to me that the Servant being punished in the place of others who deserved the punishment is one possible interpretation of 'laying iniquity on' him - but not the only one (I'm the first to admit I'm not a Hebraist, and for all I know the NRSV is making an interpretation here too!).

Hebrews 12:7:
NRSV: 'Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as chldren; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?'

TEV: 'Endure what you suffer as being a father's punishment; your suffering shows that God is treating you as his children. Was there ever a child who was not punished by his father?'

There's a world of difference between 'discipline' and 'punishment'!

Ephesians 5:23:
NRSV: 'For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour'.

TEV: 'For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church, and Christ is himself the Savior of the church, his body'.

Again, I submit that 'has authority over' is one possible interpretation of 'kephale' ('head'), but there are others too.

1 Corinthians 11:10:
NRSV: 'For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels'. (note that in this case the NRSV makes the interpetive decision to add the words 'a symbol of', but points out in a footnote that the Greek text lacks 'a symbol of' and simply says 'a woman ought to have authority on her head'.

TEV: 'On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband's authority'.

Now where on earth did the TEV get 'her husband' from in this verse? There is absolutely nothing to support it in the Greek text!

Well, here are just a few of the issues I discovered with the TEV. I've found others too, and also with the CEV, the Message, the NLT etc. Despite all that has been said here, it seems to me that what you folks are calling the 'non-standard English' translations by and large make fewer of these sorts of interpretive decisions - and when they do, they often footnote them.

With this I will bow out, and allow Wayne and others the last word. A blessed Christmas to you all.

Tim

 
At Fri Dec 23, 11:01:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

Tim said:

"1 Corinthians 11:10:
NRSV: 'For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels'.

TEV: 'On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband's authority'.

Now where on earth did the TEV get 'her husband' from in this verse? There is absolutely nothing to support it in the Greek text!"

The symbol of a covering on her head is implied to mean she is someone's wife. Or, in other words, a covering is the sign of her husband. Her "authority".

Supposedly at least. Whoever translated that TEV passage is just adding in the implied cultural meaning in regards to "covering". This 1st century practice may not be readily apparent to most 21st century Westerners, therefore the translator chooses to paraphrase a bit.

As for "the angels" part, I'm going to be honest and admit that I've always had a problem with this passage.

See here for more info:

http://www.bible-researcher.com/angels.html

I'm also going to say that I have a major problem with Paul's tendency to relegate women to submissive roles. It's one of the really "difficult" sayings. Not just difficult either. More like "almost impossible to digest".

Why would "angels" be upset if women aren't acting under the authority of their husbands? Is this one of those cases where Paul is speaking only of his own authority? Is he prescribing a permanent, revelatory view of worship here or just making a case for "the time being", in order to suit certain cultural mores?

Verse 16 leads me to think that:

"If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God."

 
At Fri Dec 23, 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Peter

I haven't really decided how to read 1 TIm.2:15 so I am enjoying this discussion. In 2 TIm. 4:18 σωσει means preserved or kept physically safe. I have been influenced by Aristotle's use of this verb for household security and phyisical safety, to assume that physical safety would be the primary reading.

However, that may not be true. I would definitely agree that every translation is making an interpretaive choice.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Tim ended:

With this I will bow out, and allow Wayne and others the last word. A blessed Christmas to you all.

Tim, I don't need a last word! :-)

Thank you for posting those verses from the TEV. I am well aware of verses in the TEV, CEV, ESV, and every other version which are not as accurate as they should be. That is why we have this blog, to try to help promote better Bibles, whether more accurate, more natural, clearer, etc.

If you have time, please also post your comments in the TEV section of this blog.

And a Merry Christmas to you and yours, as well.

Now, was this a last word, or not?! Hmm, inquiring minds want to know!

 
At Fri Dec 23, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Let me attempt to answer Tim's points. He wrote:

However, you did invite me to point out some interperetive decisions made by the TEV. Here are a couple.

Isaiah 53:6b:
NRSV: 'and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all'.

TEV: 'But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved'.

It seems to me that the Servant being punished in the place of others who deserved the punishment is one possible interpretation of 'laying iniquity on' him - but not the only one (I'm the first to admit I'm not a Hebraist, and for all I know the NRSV is making an interpretation here too!).


As a bit of a Hebraist, I can tell you that the Hebrew word עֲוֹן `awon used here can mean either "guilt" or "punishment". The NRSV translators have made the interpretive choice to render it "iniquity". The TEV translators have made a different interpretive choice, to render it "punishment" - and since on this interpretation the Servant receives the punishment, "of us all" can only mean that we are the ones who deserved this punishment. Each of these renderings corresponds to only one of two possible interpretations of the verse; if "iniquity" sounds ambiguous between the two alternatives, it is probably because you don't know what it really means! But the translator has to choose one or the other.

Hebrews 12:7:
NRSV: 'Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as chldren; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?'

TEV: 'Endure what you suffer as being a father's punishment; your suffering shows that God is treating you as his children. Was there ever a child who was not punished by his father?'

There's a world of difference between 'discipline' and 'punishment'!


Indeed! And the Greek word παιδεία paideia can have both meanings. Again, NRSV has chosen one possible interpretation and TEV has chosen another. You may prefer NRSV's choice (and I think I do here), but it is still an interpretive choice of the same type as made by TEV.

Ephesians 5:23:
NRSV: 'For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour'.

TEV: 'For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church, and Christ is himself the Savior of the church, his body'.

Again, I submit that 'has authority over' is one possible interpretation of 'kephale' ('head'), but there are others too.


I tend to agree with you on this one! But the rendering "head" is still an interpretive decision made by the NRSV translators, although in this case rather by default. The problem with this rendering is that it assumes, probably incorrectly, that the English word "head" has the same range of metaphorical meanings as the Greek word κεφαλή kephalē rendered "head".

1 Corinthians 11:10:
NRSV: 'For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels'. (note that in this case the NRSV makes the interpetive decision to add the words 'a symbol of', but points out in a footnote that the Greek text lacks 'a symbol of' and simply says 'a woman ought to have authority on her head'.

TEV: 'On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband's authority'.

Now where on earth did the TEV get 'her husband' from in this verse? There is absolutely nothing to support it in the Greek text!


Here I agree with you. Both NRSV and TEV have made unjustifiable interpretive additions to this verse, which in fact reverse its meaning - and only NRSV admits it. A literal translation of the verse, for what it is worth, would be "Because of this the women ought to have authority on/over the head because of the angels." Well, what does "have authority on/over the head" mean? This Greek expression, ἐζουσία ἐπί exousia epi, "authority on/over", was the usual way of saying that someone should have authority over something or to keep it under control. So the obvious meaning of the main part of this verse is something like "The woman ought to keep her head under control", i.e. in the context presumably keep her hair tidy and perhaps pinned in place. Why don't translations say this? Because they seem to have been misled by a note in KJV "That is, a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband" into misunderstanding this as meaning that the woman is the one under authority, whereas the Greek clearly says that she is the one who possesses the authority, if only over own head and hair.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 02:12:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Even if the husband "as covering" part is out of the way, I still don't quite understand Paul here. Why is he concerned about hair?

The entire passage (1 Cor 11:1-16) makes me inclined to be "contentious" with Paul (v. 16). Whether that be the parts where he calls women with short hair "disgraceful" or men with long hair to be "disgraceful", I just don't see what it has to do with "angels" or why Paul even cares.

I have long hair. I'm not such a bad guy. And have you ever seen that old, short haired actress Jean Seberg before? She's beautiful. Not disgraceful (I'm merely being anecdotal here, bear with me).

Perhaps this out of the scope of this blog, but I can say this: English translations have never helped explain these verses to me so far.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 03:58:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Straylight, I agree with you! I don't understand this whole passage at all well. It would be much easier if it wasn't in the Bible! But I am just trying to deal with some of the understandings of it which are almost certainly wrong. Perhaps someone else can help us towards a right interpretation. One suggestion I have seen is that the word φύσις phusis in v.14, usually translated "nature", doesn't mean "nature" at all, but more like "custom, culture" - which would mean that Paul is signalling in this verse that these rules apply in the culture of Corinth but not necessarily in the culturally very different modern world. But I am by no means sure that this is correct.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 05:43:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"It would be much easier if it wasn't in the Bible! But I am just trying to deal with some of the understandings of it which are almost certainly wrong. Perhaps someone else can help us towards a right interpretation."

Heh, I've browsed through various commentaries on this from time to time (as I'm sure we all have), and to my surprise, very few have a definitive answer on it either. Conservative or liberal.

I was glad to see it brought up here, and it made me realize how I've never really considered what the linguistic/translator point of view on it would be.

The one interpretation that stands out to me at the moment (and I hope to not offend anyone here) is the one provided in the NRSV Oxford Annotated notes. It basically states that v.1 flows much more naturally into v.17 than it does directly into v.2 . That 2-16 doesn't fit the context, and that it doesn't reflect Paul's style.

In short, the OAB says it's an emendation.

Then again, that could just be wishful thinking. Lord knows the Oxford editors can be a wishful bunch (but sometimes, I'm not so different).

Of course, like you said, wanting it in or out doesn't exactly solve the real problem: "What does it mean?"

I know what I think it means, and it's disheartening. And..Maybe because of that, I'm making it more confusing than it's not, looking for a way so that I won't be disheartening.

Or maybe it truly is confusing. If so though, then I'm with the OAB.

Whew....I hope you don't mind this little derail. Apologies.

 
At Fri Dec 23, 05:45:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

correction/typo:

"I won't be disheartening"

I meant: it won't be disheartening

 
At Fri Dec 23, 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour'.

Here is another case where Aristotle uses the word σωτηρ and it is usually translated the security or protector. In Aristotle the husband is the security of the household. He has certain obligations in regards to physical security. I really don't know how much Paul was influenced by Aristotle - some people say not at all.

About φυσις I have never heard that it was 'custom' but it is certainly a very general word. φυσις is usually contrasted with νομος. However, it could also mean 'the look' of it. Doesn't just 'the look' of it teach you... And 'to grow your hair' for a man was a sign of high birth so it was a sign of pride and arrogance and aspiring to a class that you were not a part of, according to Liddell & Scott. Eventually in Athens boys cut their hair at eighteen. There could be some connotations to long hair for men that we are no longer aware of.

It is possible that growing long hair for a man was like the braids and pearls for a woman - somehow inappropriate in appearance. What the angels think about hair is beyond me but it may mean making a display of yourself to attract others.

Certainly in my literalist upbringing women did wear braids - and teenage boys wore long hair when they could get away with it.

 
At Sun Dec 25, 11:43:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, it is my understanding that this significance of long hair was isolated to the Pelopponesian War period. It was fashionable among the Spartan upperclass for men to wear long hair, so young Athenian men with aristocratic aspirations (e.g. Critias, Alcibiades, and friends) would grow their hair long. It was a sort of protest against the democracy. I don't see how this sort of symbolism could still exist in Corinth over 400 years later, any more than long hair will still be a sign of environmentalism/passifism/youthful rebellion/etc. in the year 2400.

 
At Mon Dec 26, 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Kenny,

Do you have any further thoughts on what long hair might have meant when Paul wrote about it?

The question really is, if the significance of long hair is culture dependent, as we believe it is, how do we represent these instructions in a modern translation.

 
At Wed Dec 28, 12:11:00 AM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, I would solve it by appeal to 11:13 as not a rhetorical question, but a real legitimate question, which interprets the rest of the passage. I don't think this can be rhetorical or sarcastic, because Paul is instructing the Corinthians to follow a Greek custom which is the opposite of the Jewish custom with regard to head coverings. What I see Paul doing here is taking an existing custom and explaining some spiritual truth that exists behind it, then asking the Corinthians to decide whether the custom is edifying based on this meaning. I often use this as an argument for what I call "selective traditionalism," that is, I believe Paul teaches here that we should examine the meaning behind the customs of our culture, including our church culture, in order to determine whether they are edifying to us. If they are, we should follow them, if not, we should drop them.

If we go above, we see the line "if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered" (v. 6). This seems to point out a connection between the length of hair and the head coverings. Unfortunately, Paul's explanation is somewhat opaque.

Ultimately, I think that this passage is difficult to interpret just because it is a difficult passage, and not because it has been translated poorly (although the point about v. 10 meaning that the woman ought to have authority OVER her head is well taken and I am quite persuaded that the translations are wrong here).

One suggestion I've heard in this case is that the temple prostitutes had shaved heads, and this was the reason the Christian women were to wear their hair long. Whatever the case, Paul very confusingly connects it to the creation and makes a lot of seemingly irrelevant points. I think that it is safe for us to take away from this verse two points for general application: (1) the "selective traditionalism" I mentioned earlier, and (2) that men and women are not identical in the order of things in this present world, but are nevertheless one and the same "in the Lord" (vv. 3, 7-12).

 
At Wed Dec 28, 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Kenny,

I agree. I have read all the other cultural discussion too but it none of it really solves the issue. I reread 1 Corinthians as a whole book last night to get the context. Definitely, Paul discusses all kinds of issues where he ends up saying, you must do what is right before God and not be taken up with the outward form - whether to eat meat, whether to marry, whether to follow the law, etc. He doesn't give a one rule fits all answer.

The major difficulty in 1 cor. 11 has come from translations that add information. Here is the KJV - one of the reasons for finding it friendly.

1 Cor. 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Almost every other translation adds something here about the wife or authority or her husband, or something. I rather liked the way Peter interpreted this as 'have control over her head'. At least that makes some kind of sense.

About whether men and women are not the same in the order of things ... I am not sure what you mean here. The hair issue is a very physical characteristic and highlights the physical difference and the difference in origin. Man is born of woman, woman was created from man, and both are from God.

I wonder how much the reference to 'head' is a pun of sorts to tie in with the head covering and how much is to accentuate that origin of woman as coming from man, since obviously, woman gives birth to man. That is, Paul is creating a reciprocal relationship, more than anything.

But I have no idea where you were going with your remark. The problem is that if we don't translate kephale as head throughout the chapter, something might be lost in Paul's intent. I don't think of this chapter as being about hierarchy, but about respect and appearing orderly and appropriate.

 
At Wed Dec 28, 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, you may like the KJV text of 1 Corinthians 11:10, especially "woman to have power" which is of course what the Greek says. But don't forget the KJV explanatory footnote which I quoted before: "That is, a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband". I suppose the idea of the woman having any kind of power, even over her own head, was too much to stomach for the KJV translators, all male of course. And that is presumably where the problems started.

 
At Wed Dec 28, 06:37:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

I give up. Where can I read the notes to the KJV online? I have posted on Powerscourt about the Geneva Bible for this chapter with its notes.

 
At Wed Dec 28, 07:22:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, I would read this passage in light of Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (but be sure to start at v. 21 and not v. 22!) and Galatians 3:28. I think the overall message of the Ephesians passage is that in the order of this world people have different positions, and we have to respect these differences. I see it as beginning by saying (in v. 21) "everyone submit to everyone else", then going through examples of how this submission plays out in "real world" relationships (since I'm not married, I'll use the section on parents and children as my example and remain silent on the subject of husbands and wives - the child submits to his parents by obeying them, but fathers [mothers are not mentioned - curious] submit to their sons by always working for their good, to "bring them up in training and admonition to the Lord"). We also know from Romans 3:1-4, 11:1-36, etc. that in this present world there continues to be a real difference between Jews and non-Jews. However, Galatians 3:28 assures us that these differences in God's order for this world have nothing to do with our ultimate position in Christ.

I see both of these ideas presented side by side in Paul's intepretations of the customs he discusses in 1 Corinthians 11. However, for ultimate clarity, I should note that, in my opinion, most people who acknowledge any difference at all in the position of men and women usually exaggerate the differences greatly. I would say that the primary difference in our positions in this world is found in Genesis 3, in the different punishments given to Adam and Eve. The man must work for his food, childbirth becomes painful and dangerous to the woman. One of the things I think this means is that no one should be telling a woman who has surviving male relatives capable of supporting her that she has to work and support herself. If a woman doesn't want to work for money and is doing something else productive with her time, the men in her life have a responsibility to support her, and this continues, in my view, to be the case as long as men don't experience childbirth. On the other hand, it would be equally wrong to tell a woman she CAN'T work and be paid, or to pay her less for the work she is doing, if she DOES want to work. The woman is exempt from this particular punishment. That doesn't prohibit her from doing anything, it just removes her obligation to do something.

I realize I'm a bit off-topic here, but I felt the need to clarify what I mean when I am talking about the differences of position in the present world that I think 1 Cor. 11 makes tacit reference to. Now, I'm not sure how exactly Paul's comments play into this particular example of a difference between men and women as regards position in the present world, but I do think it is clear from this text (not to mention the many, many others in Paul and elsewhere in Scripture) that some such difference exists.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 05:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, try Bartleby.com or Christ Notes for KJV with notes - but I copied this from my printed copy, from 1927 or earlier. I must say it is disappointing that sites like Bible Gateway don't have these notes.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 05:52:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kenny, don't forget that πατέρες pateres can mean "parents", not just "fathers", as clearly in Hebrews 11:23. So it might have the wider meaning in Ephesians 6:4.

As for your suggestions about women left on their own, this seems to contradict what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 5:11-16. Paul expects older widows to be supported by their relatives - although according to verse 16 in the best MSS, the primary responsibility belongs to the female relatives. But younger widows are told not to rely on their relatives, but to get themselves a productive life.

And, despite certain mistranslations, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is entirely gender generic.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Peter,

That link works well. I have a KJV without notes. Actually I think I like it better that way but I do want to know what they say on occasion.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Kenny,

I know a man who has a wife, a widowed mother, a widowed sister-in-law, a widowed niece with one daughter, a single sister, and a daughter who is a single mother. He was successful in his profession and felt he had the duty to support them all either financially or emotionally. Then he had a heart attack. The part that isn't so funny is that this is a completely true story with no happy ending.

It is simply better IMO to enter adult life with as few preconceptions as possible. Fortunately my parents forced all of us sons and daughters to graduate with professional degrees. However, us girls were the exception in our Christian community. I still remember my friends whose parents would not allow/support to go to university.

The modern day equivalent of Proverbs 31 is a good place to start. These skills such as providing clothing for others, especially purple clothing, seem to have had enduring value.(but women who are not so good at clothing design might be better at real estate) However, Priscilla had a much more practical skill - she sewed tents with her husband and appears to have been literate. I think most men should expect at least that much.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Kenny said...

Thanks, Peter and Suzanne. Peter, you are right about pateres. Also, I wasn't completely clear about women left on their own. What I meant to say is simply that no one should be telling a woman it is her responsibility to work for money. The reason I mentioned the woman who is left on her own is that in the non-ideal world we live in she may be forced by circumstances to work (however, the church should be there to pick up the slack). Paul's instructions regarding widows in 1 Timothy and also the verse you cited in 1 Thess. go with the proviso I gave to begin with, when I said the woman should be supported by her male relatives (or the church) if she is doing something productive with her time. We must all work for the Kingdom of God during our time on earth. It is, however, my belief that for a man this obligation always (or nearly always) includes working to provide for himself and his family materially, whereas this is not necessarily the case for a woman. That is all I'm trying to say.

Anyway, the part that I believe is relevant to the current discussion is that the positions God has ordained for men and women in this present world are not 100% identical (although they are perhaps more similar than most conservatives think), and I think 1 Cor. 11 is one of the many places this is visible in the New Testament.

Suzanne, I do not at all mean that it is a bad thing for a woman to have job skills. Of course this is a great thing, and to be encouraged! Women are consistently praised for having practical skills of this nature in the Bible. Often, however, I think that when women are forced to work (rather than deciding that they want to work) it is what I would call a "Deborah situation" - that is, they are picking up slack for men around them who are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I do not at all mean that it is a bad thing for a woman to have job skills. Of course this is a great thing

A necessary thing.

I think that when women are forced to work (rather than deciding that they want to work

This option is only available to a certain portion of the population. It is evident that women in the Bible had to work, and many women today *have to* work. In spite of Dr. Laura!

a "Deborah situation" - that is, they are picking up slack for men around them

The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser is a good historical read on this topic.

Women just don't know what their lot will be. Many women, maybe half, will end up single or divorced, or the main wage-earner at some time in their life. It is easier just to accept this, even if we feel that this should not be so. Imagine the parents who have only daughters, the son who has many sisters, what a burden they would bear, in your paradigm. Back to the days of Pride and Prejudice! Can you imagine some healthy young woman wandering into a church to demand upkeep.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 03:47:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kenny, I still don't quite see why, in your opinion, a woman is permitted to sponge off her relatives as long as she is doing something productive, whereas a man is not - or what is the biblical justification for this position. It is ironic that you as a male student, no doubt a very productive one, are very likely at least partly depending on your family, whereas Suzanne's female friends were not permitted or supported through similar studies by their families. So it seems that not even the Christian community takes your position in practice, whatever the theory might be.

I accept that a woman can reasonably expect support from the church if doing productive work for the church. But then the same is true of a man, I hope. But I don't see the Bible or modern society allowing women to depend on their families for support when they are capable of working for a living. The work they do may be within the family, for I don't want to disparage those, male or female, who choose to stay at home to raise their families. But no family should be expected to support anyone who refuses to make themselves useful. That is surely what Paul meant in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 04:33:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, you say that it is easier to just accept the present day reality, even if we feel it should not be so, and I am not one to disagree with this point, by any means. However, my point is about what "should be so." For instance, women ending up as single mothers through divorce or pregnancy out of wedlock "should not be so," but it is a real-world situation that we have to deal with, and there are many such cases in which the woman is in no way at fault. I don't mean to criticize the decisions that people make under non-ideal circumstances, or to remark on what types of "contingency plans" people do or don't need to have, but only on what I believe to be the Biblical ideal.

Peter, it is true that as a student I have been financially dependent on my parents until recently (I am not receiving any money from them this year, however - not sure how much of my situation is really relevant to this discussion, but I suppose I ought to expose any self-interested biases I may have). I certainly wouldn't criticize a student who received money from his parents to pay for college, and in fact I would hope that if I ever had children I would be able to provide support for all of them through school. However, I wouldn't consider a male to have become an adult, really, until he was financially independent from his parents, and this isn't necessarily the same standard I would apply to a woman.

I completely agree with you that "no family should be expected to support anyone who refuses to make themselves useful." I would add, neither should any church. The scenario I had in mind is something more like this:

Suppose that an unmarried individual in his/her twenties has some type of useful skill, and prefers to apply this skill in working on a volunteer basis for some church or charity that cannot pay him/her rather than applying it working for pay. I would say that, in the ideal case where the individual's father survives and has sufficient means, if the individual is female she ought to be able to work on a volunteer basis, continuing to be supported by her father, whereas if the individual is male he has a moral obligation to begin working toward finding his own means of support. I believe the man has this obligation because of Genesis 3:17, where the punishment, "cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life" is given to Adam, but not to Eve. I think that we should take the early parts of Genesis to be our primary text on gender roles, inside and outside of marriage, because it is clear that Paul took this section of Scripture to be HIS primary text on the subject (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 11:8-9, Ephesians 5:31, 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

I do feel, as a result of these considerations, that I have a personal moral obligation to seek to become materially independent from my parents at this stage in my life.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Kenny,

I would like to add that women become wage-earners because their partners are any of the following - long gone, recently gone, dead, sick, unemployed, need time between contracts ... at war (this is a reference to The Weaker Vessel by Fraser ie the 17th century)

However, I wouldn't consider a male to have become an adult, really, until he was financially independent from his parents, and this isn't necessarily the same standard I would apply to a woman.

I am starting to detect some Aristotelian biases here, Kenny. The father decided for the son until he became a man, the father was always aware that the son would become an adult and then he would have to give up his position of authority, but the woman is never fully mature, she passes from father to husband.

if the individual is female she ought to be able to work on a volunteer basis, continuing to be supported by her father

Good thing my father isn't reading this with his six daughters! What happens when the father dies? How does a woman then get a wage-earning job after having only done volunteer work.

I think that we should take the early parts of Genesis to be our primary text on gender role

Men are definitely better at digging in the garden, Kenny!

http://www.equalitycentral.com/eca/humor/Gods_design_for_men.html
http://thelanguageguy.blogspot.com/2005/12/language-and-womens-place-personal.html

I hope you won't be offended by these links.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 07:40:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I need to add that many women remain single and that some women are responsible for leaving their partners. I did not mean to imply that they did not. I was simply recounting the various ways that a woman might unintentionally find herself needing to earn a living and support children or parents.

This may not be the ideal but surely Genesis 3 was not meant to represent the ideal. It is simply true that women experience pain in giving birth and that men more frequently suffer from work-related injuries.

I do not take Gen. 3 lightly. In fact, over 40 men died this year in BC in the forest industry. The oil and gas industry and fisheries all have their dangers. The dangerous jobs in these industries are almost always filled by men. Women, in general, experience difficulties giving birth; men, in general, experience harsh conditions of heavy labour.

While in some places most men avoid dangerous labour conditions, women usually survive childbirth with minimal risk.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne,

I would not be surprised to find that I have some Aristotelian biases somewhere; certainly I believe in Aristotelian (immenant) telos in addition to Platonic (transcendent) telos, for instance, but by and large I am definitely more of a Platonist than an Aristotelian (although I haven't thought extensively about what Plato would say about the present subject, and I doubt that taking such thought would change my position). I certainly wouldn't want to say that "the woman is never fully mature," by any means. I suppose I am saying that financial independence is less essential to female maturity than to male maturity, but men and women are not the same. Why should it be problematic for a woman not to acheive what would count as maturity in a man? After all, perhaps men never achieve whatever it is that counts as maturity in a woman (the nature of THAT is not a subject I fell equipped to address). Also note that one of the stipulations of my hypothetical scenario is that whatever skill the woman is employing COULD be applied to a paid job, but she prefers to work as a volunteer.

I'm not sure I understand the relevance of the first link you have provided.

I find the argument of the second link fascinating, but I think that it suffers from at least three critical flaws:

1) It completely ignores the line, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen. 3:16). I don't speak Hebrew, and I'm not really sure what this verse means, but it seems to me that even if everything said in that page was correct when it comes to the state of man prior to the Fall, this verse would cast some doubt on its correctness today. It could, of course, be the case that the verse merely predicts that man will improperly dominate woman, without instructing woman to be ruled by man in any way shape or form, but I think it more likely that there is some form of servant-leadership on the part of the man which is sanctioned by this verse, especially in light of the other Scriptural discussions of the subject.

2) It ignores the God's description of Eve as a "helper" for man (Gen. 2:18). This seems to me to imply that it is part of the woman's job to assist in the man's job, whatever that might be.

3) I think it is mistaken in its application of God's instructions to man to the present day. A major part of the purpose of the Garden of Eden was to provide food for Adam and Eve. When God curses the ground in chapter 3, it ceases to cooperate and it will not yield food without a great deal of toil on Adam's part. 3 times in this curse it speaks of EATING the product of the ground. In the modern world, we have created machines like combines to help us cultivate the ground. The use of these machines requires only a handful of people, but there must be others to invent, manufacture, and repair them, and so forth. This is all part of Adam's task of cultivating the uncooperative ground, and part of the purpose may indeed be to preserve God's creation on earth, but certainly the major part is to provide food. Now, if you want to say that it is the man's job to provide food by participating in this type of division-of-labor economy to assist in the cultivation of the earth (which I suppose every job does somehow), and it is the woman's job to manage the household, including all of the various tasks the Proverbs 31 woman performs in order to make use of and increase the household's assets, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you, and I think this type of picture is common in Scripture, but I would caution that this is an extremely rigid picture of gender roles, and I don't think it allows for enough variation between different individuals and cultures. I don't think that God's general plan for gender is anything so specific as that; his specific plans are plans for individuals.

 
At Thu Dec 29, 07:47:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, after writing that last comment, I now see your second remark. Based on this it appears that you agree with me on the point that is relevant to our discussion of 1 Corinthians 11: the positions of men and women in this present world are not completely identical. I seem to have simply chosen a poor example of a way in which men and women differ, when I probably could have found an example we already both agreed on.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 12:09:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

my hypothetical scenario is that whatever skill the woman is employing COULD be applied to a paid job, but she prefers to work as a volunteer.

This has limited application. If the job is worth doing then it is worth a man doing it too.

I'm not sure I understand the relevance of the first link you have provided.

Mike Geis writes some interesting stuff, but I am not sure which one you meant by my first link.

I heard when I was quite young, a child, this explanation. It is an alternate interpretation of Gen.3. The woman's most important muscle is for givng birth; the man's is in his shoulders for ....(place here, working the ground, carrying the heavy load, etc) In this physical sense men and women are not identical. (But I do know men who take care of their backs and disappear when the lifting jobs come up. They should not feel forced by cultural norms to participate in this activity if they don't wish to.)

However, I often hear people talk as if the contrast between men and women is that woman is 'impulse and desire' and man is 'intellect and will'. This is directly out of Aristotle and implies that the man is the brain and the woman the body. Aristotle's ideas about decision-making and gender roles were brought into the church in the early Chirstian era and once again by Aquinas.

In rereading your response, I am not sure if you realize that the link about men working in the yard was a spoof. So now I can't respond further. It was intended to be funny, not to make fun but only to give men a little glimpse into how a woman might think about all this.

I have written a little on Powerscourt tonight about Jane Austin.

http://powerscourt.blogspot.com/2005/12/sense-sensibility.html

About those words 'helper' and 'desire' - I somehow don't think they mean what they sound like in English. But Peter might be better at answering that.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 06:01:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kenny, I still fail to see why your scenario applies only to single women but not to single men. After all, if "the skill ... COULD be applied to a paid job", the man as well as the woman would be ready for the time when he might need to earn for himself e.g. to support a family - on the other hand, his wife might become the breadwinner as in Proverbs 31 (which is not a spoof in itself!) so that the man can remain a volunteer. And don't forget that Jesus himself relied on financial support from women, Luke 8:3, so it is hard to argue that this is an unbiblical picture!

I am also concerned that you are relying rather strongly on the curse on Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:16-19. This curse does indeed describe how the real world works, including the gender roles in most human societies in history. But Galatians 3:10-14 and Romans 5:12-21 teach that Christian believers are free from the guilt and the curse for Adam and Eve's sin. Yes, the physical consequences of the Fall continue, but believers are no longer bound by its spiritual consequences, nor by such curses as that women will always be ruled by their husbands.

As for "helper" in Genesis 2:18,20, this is a very misleading translation. The Hebrew word here, `ezer, is used elsewhere in a personal sense only of God! So it is certainly not a word which implies an inferior position, as English "helper" or "assistant" does. In the context, `ezer kenegdo "help for opposite him", the meaning would seem to be someone of equal status. This reminds me of a little illustration that Eve was not made from Adam's head to dominate him, nor from his foot to be trampled by him, but from his rib to be at his side on the same level.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, you say that if the job is worth doing, then it is worth a man doing it too. However, I believe that the man would be shirking his responsibility by continuing to be dependent rather than working for himself. You're right this is of very limited application, and that is precisely the point: the difference exists, but is much smaller than most conservatives want to make it.

I don't think that the woman in her perfection is "impulse and desire." I don't think it is God's plan for anyone to be dominated by irrational impulses, but I do think that the existence of the irrational impulse is necessary for action (that is, rationality can only decide how to accomplish something, it cannot decide the ulimate, fundamental goal), and I do believe that it is part of the perfection of the woman that her irrational impulse be stronger, and this is a good thing and in no way makes her inferior. I have in mind particularly the maternal instinct, which is perhaps the strongest impulse known in human (or animal) psychology (it may be the second strongest, after reproduction itself, but my experience leads me to doubt that). It is still God's intent that these impulses be dominated by the spirit/mind/understanding, and that the whole of the individual soul be in submission to Him, but one of the results of the Fall, which can be compensated for to some degree in the natural, but ultimately repaired only by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, is that this basic order of the soul is upset, with the flesh (the irrational impulse) rebelling against the spirit/mind/understanding and the spirit/mind/understanding rebelling against God. (Told you I was a Platonist!) I have discussed this at length here, but that was written a while ago and I haven't been over it recently to be sure that I still believe everything I said at that time.

I didn't realize I was reading a spoof because there is a group on my campus known as the "Christian Association" where people actually believe that kind of stuff. I would not, however, have expected you to believe anything like that and am glad to hear that you don't take it seriously!

Peter, I think that there is a difference between being in full-time ministry for which one raises support, and simply relying on one's parents. In the case of the female, I believe that her father has an obligation to continue supporting her, if he is able. There is certainly nothing wrong with a male in the same situation raising support (i.e. writing letters asking for donations, as Campus Crusade staffers and interns do, for instance), and of course if his father is a Christian we would expect him to contribute. But the father has no obligation here and the son would shirk his responsibilities by simply expecting his father to continue to provide.

I'm not sure how we are to determine which curses are the spiritual ones and which are the physical ones. I have emphasized repeatedly that whatever differences may exist in this present world have no relevance to our position in Christ. I also think that the desire/rule language (in translation) makes this passage look like there is a relationship involving conflict and dominance, and it is of course not God's will that anyone in the church dominate anyone else.

I also agree with your interpretation of the helper passage. I never meant to imply that woman was in any way inferior. In fact there is reason to believe that she is in some sense superior! See the traditional Orthodox Jewish interpretation of gender roles from Genesis here, question 8.5.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzanne, I'd like to add that your interpretation saying that men have as their primary risk "occupational hazards" whereas the greatest danger to women is in childbirth (if that is what you mean) also looks pretty satisfactory to me. I think that this is able to account for the text just fine. I still kind of suspect that there is something just a bit stronger than that in this text, but I have realized in the course of this discussion that part of my understanding relied on a probably incorrect reading of 1 Timothy 5:8, which the context and language gives us no reason to believe is gender-specific. I am finding that I am forced to re-evaluate many things as I begin to look at the New Testament primarily in the original language rather than just trusting whatever my translation says!

 
At Fri Dec 30, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I do believe that it is part of the perfection of the woman that her irrational impulse be stronger,

Kenny,

I believe that you have deeply imbibed the Greek philosphers. I sincerely hope that over time this influence will be tempered by other literature. It is excellent to be informed of Greek philosophy and the roots of rationalist thought in Europe but one also needs to be critical of it and realize how Greek thought was used to pervert the understanding of not only women, but also the native people of America. Have you heard of Lewis Hanke? Here is a start.

http://www.nathanielturner.com/aristotleamerica.htm

I know you think of yourself as a Platonist but that is simply another shade of Greek philosophy, different in many ways but alike in others.

You must think of me at your age at university with my girlfriends, working our way through these philosphers and the Bible, in Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac (my best friend studied Syriac and was a brilliant scholar)

On graduation, I became a teacher, with a specialty in biliteracy and dyslexia, my friend a very successful lawyer and other friends became known as somewhat liberal Christian women theologians. There was no place for us to remain and be leaders in, or to influence the evangelical Christian community because we were women.

I aplogize about the article. I knew when I first read it that it was a spoof, but it is very cleverly done; and I do admit that if I had not known before that it was a spoof, I too would have read it as you did.

What concerns me most of all, is that some Christian men do not see that Christian women have personal ambition and drive as part of their natural personality makeup. They could bcome very frustrated if they are made to subvert this to a husband or deny its existance.

The young woman must plan and prepare for her career many years before she knows if and who she will marry. Sometimes two careers come together, sometimes they do not; some women, like some men, do not have the same focused drive for a career and are content to support.

However, women have in equal proportion intellect, drive and ambition; they have to spread it thinner and are mostly happy to do that. I have nowhere ever heard of any woman who actually believes that women are more driven by impulse than men. In fact, I would say that today most women are overwhemingly convinced, and are supported by statistics in this, that men are far more driven by impulse than women.

I find this unfair and have to say that in my job in the secular education system I have had many friends and colleagues who are men, and I find only trivial culturally conditioned differences between us. We are generally able to overlook these differences and relate to each other as people without obsessing on imaginary differences. I would like to see this carry over into the Christian community.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 03:01:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Suzane, I hope that you did not think I meant to say that women were irrational, or inferior in intellectual capability or ambition, or anything of the sort. In fact, my girlfriend is studying math and physics and Penn and hopes to do work on string theory! She has just as much drive and ambition as I do with regard to academic pursuits, and deals with complicated math that I can't even touch (this as a sophomore!). There are many women like this, and they are very talented in their fields and have a strong drive to pursue these things, and no one should ever hinder or discourage them.

What I mean by "the irrational impulse" is that thing which in the ideal (pre-Fall) human being determined the ends toward which the rational faculty was put. I argue in the document I linked that God must also have some sort of equivalent of this "irrational impulse" or he would never have created the world. Even a vague drive toward "the good" is an irrational impulse. In the ideal human being, the irrational impulse is in complete submission to the rational faculty, and the rational faculty is in complete submission to God. When the irrational impulse is in proper submission to the rational faculty it is a good thing.

Any passing observations I made about the relative strength of the irrational impulse in men and women should be (a) viewed against this back drop, where it can be clearly seen that the irrational impulse being stronger does not make the individual less rational, but merely more driven toward the ultimate ends he or she sees as important, and (b) recognized as a mere statistical tendency rather than an absolute law that holds in comparison of any man with any woman. I emphatically do NOT mean to assert that women are less rational than men. I apologize if I have not made myself clearly understood and I am deeply sorry if any misunderstanding has insulted you.

I also still think we are talking about two different things. I am talking abstractly and you are talking concretely. I agree with the statements you have made about the practical reality of modern life with only minor caveats.

 
At Fri Dec 30, 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Kenny,

You have put this in context. I can see that you and your friend are preparing equally for very stimulating careers.

I don't agree with your paragraph on irratonal impulse, but it seems that this is better left for another time. One would have to define the notion first.

Personally I believe that as parents we should support our sons as well as our daughters as much as we can to their own good. People should do what they can either way. Although independence is a very healthy thing too for both sexes.

I have enjoyed our conversation - it has brought back to me many similar discussions I had when I was a student. I am not insulted, not at all, and hope you are not either. I read your excellent post today. I have responded briefly as you see.

 

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